Saturday, January 5, 2013

Gender Follow-Up: Some Concrete Suggestions for Local Change

Before my trip to India, I wrote a post on gender-based differences in experience in the church. The point I wanted to make is that talking about "gender inequality" in the church often ends up counter-productive as it a) polarizes people and b) often implies that men in the church have perfectly comfortable experiences while women are marginalized or oppressed.  Instead, I recommended we talk about gender differences in experience, aiming for higher quality experiences rather than hard-to-define equality.

As examples, I chose four differences we don't often discuss that I hoped would encourage more open conversations than ones dominated by indignation and defensiveness. And I'm quite pleased to report that the wide-ranging conversations on the blog and Facebook about the post have been far more enlightening than the post itself. 

As a follow-up to that discussion, I've chosen to make a second list of gender-related differences, this time focusing on three where concrete actions could be taken on the individual and ward level at any time.

The List

1) Men tend to get more recognition and affirmation for their achievements and contributions than women do.

In a capitalist culture, we make strong distinctions between the value of different kinds of work. People are paid differently based on their jobs. Different levels of respect come with different jobs. And so on.

The gospel vision is very different. Our ideal is that all honest work in the community should be valued and respected absolutely, with no discussion of prestige. In the gospels, Jesus treats the low-status act of washing feet as sacred. In his letters, Paul compares the church to a body where all parts are interdependent and therefore have no grounds for bragging about their individual contributions.

Church culture today tends to fall in various places between the surrounding culture and the gospel vision. While all work in the church is equal, we have a tendency to publicly honor some work more than other work.

The first contributor to the last discussion mentioned YM/Scouting programs vs. Young Women's programs as one specific area where men are often given much more recognition and affirmation for their achievements and contributions than women are. Alana points out that the predominance of male scripture heroes can compound the feeling that women's achievements aren't as valued. Others mention that even the order of talks can make men's contributions seem more valued.

When the culture is out of balance with the gospel vision, I think it's our duty to work within our sphere of influence to make changes, however subtle, to help even things out. So what can we do?

Myrna, who grew up in Canada, points out that the tradition of elaborate Eagle courts of honor is specific to the United States. My memory of courts of honor in Ohio was that they were also much simpler than the last one I saw in Utah. I can remember when Pres. Hinckley counseled strongly against elaborate missionary farewells on the grounds that they can be distracting and elevate one type of service over another. If you serve in scouting in an area where Eagle Scout courts of honor have become a eulogy for the living, it may be wise to take the prophet's cue and raise the issue in council. Rites of passage are good; self-celebration is not.

As for Young Women's recognition: my understanding is that in most units, only families are invited to attend the annual Acheivement Night. What if local Young Women's leaders started a ward or branch tradition of having the Young Men attend Achievment Night? This is outside my sphere of authority, of course, but it seems like such a tradition might help train young men to be the sort of husbands Pres. Hinckley urged them to be, men who encourage and support wives as they "give expression to the talents and impulses that lie within them." Isn't it wonderful whenever young women in a ward feel like the young men recognize and support their talents and efforts? Isn't it wonderful when young men learn to recognize and value the talents and commitments of the young women around them? We can do more at the ward level to foster a culture of mutual appreciation.

Another tactic for this Lee Ann mentions is increasing the number of opportunities for young women to serve in the ward. She points out that there are many church-wide opportunities/obligations for young men to serve: they serve the sacrament at church but also help take it to the sick in their homes, in many units they still collect fast offerings in some forms, they are supposed to be incorporated into the home teaching program while still in their teens.

Young women have fewer locked-in service obligations, which leaves the responsibility on local leaders to innovate and seek inspiration. What can different leaders do to make sure that young women have opportunities to learn through service? I recently found out that my seventeen-year-old cousin has a calling as the teacher of her 16-18 year old Sunday school class. This sort of thing may not occur to many bishops as a possibility, but was one bishop's inspiration for how to bless her life and serve the youth in an unusual way. Some years ago in my ward, young women were assigned partnerships with elderly sisters as extra "grandmothers" for the summer and did what they could to both serve and learn from those women. 

We are definitely falling short of the gospel vision if Young Women feel, as Lee Ann says, that all that's expected of them is to show up to church. But do we need to wait for new programs from church headquarters to change that? I suspect that gender disparities in service opportunities grow wherever wards and branches fall into the natural human tendency to sort of coast and fulfull minimum church programs rather than trying to evaluate local needs and work much righteousness through local programs of their own.

2) Men are less likely to learn by seeing female leadership in action than vice versa. 

Leadership is highly valued in the larger culture. In a gospel vision, leading and following are both important roles that develop divine attributes. In keeping with that gospel principle, Emily pointed out that the high visibility of male leaders relative to female leaders in the church can not only be negative if women don't feel like they're respected as leaders, it can also be detrimental to men if it means they miss opportunities learn from following women.

Emily's comment reminded me of the moving experience I had cleaning our chapel thoroughly with much of the ward to prepare for the Brigham City Temple dedication. In that instance, the bishopric played the role of servants, feeding us breakfast, while the Relief Society President was the leader who presided over the actual work of the day. It was wonderful, and I see no reason why we shouldn't all be blessed more often with ward service events presided over by the Relief Society.

Now, to the outside world, my example may seem trivial. After all, it involved cleaning, which is widely considered to be a low-prestige and traditional female task. But if you think about it, most of the key work of the church is traditionally associated with femininity. At its most basic level, the sacrament is food preparation and serving. One of the things we most associate with the Melchizedek Prieshood is the ministering to the sick--essentially a religious branch of the nursing tradition.

So I don't think we should underestimate the value of the Relief Society presiding over a deep cleaning of the building or other service project the whole ward is invited to participate in. The YM/YW programs are actually quite good at sharing leadership, with each class taking two turns a year to plan and preside over a combined activity. While adults in most parts of the church aren't able to meet with the same regularity the youth do, could we take more small steps in our wards to live up to their example?

3) People say dismissive or demeaning things about the opposite gender.

Both men and women do this--often disguised as teasing, sometimes not so disguised. In the broader culture, we certainly have plenty of humor about how men are lazy, useless, impulsive, inarticulate. We have far more derogatory humor about women (when was the last time you heard a joke about a blonde man?). Women are often derided as stupid, shallow, hyper-emotional, unimportant.

Riding on a long history of cultural respect, men don't seem terribly bothered by derogatory comments or jokes, though they may also be internalizing the lesson that it's normal and OK for men to be slackers who don't speak up for themselves. But because demeaning comments about women are more common and because women's history of respect in most cultures is less secure, dismissive things men say about gender in the church seem to carry significantly more sting and harm for the women, especially the young women, they are directed at than dismissive comments about men.

So what can when do about men who deride women?

In our recent discussion, Alana points out that some form of accountability for disrespectful young men would have helped her and suggests corporeal punishment. Since corporeal punishment is not an approved tool for youth leaders, though, it may be better to focus on education.

There are plenty of talks that address the issue of derogatory speech--several of them specifically mentioned derogatory speech toward women. Pres. Hinckley's "Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood" is one that made a strong impression on my when it was given. I know that some bishops keep copies of various talks on hand to share when recurring issues come up. If you notice respect problems in your ward or branch, why not offer a copy of that or another talk as a resource to the Young Men's president or even to the deacons' or teachers' quorum presidents if you have a good relationship with them? In the church, we often look to a handful of elderly men in Salt Lake City for change and overlook the vast potential of the twelve to eighteen year old young men around us. A quorum president might be exactly the right person to invite his brothers to a better way of living. And while it's important to respect the young president's stewardship in his sphere, I don't see anything wrong with offering a president advice to consider.

Becca describes this as an invite-people-to-Zion approach, which I think is a powerful frame. When you feel that people around you are not living up to a gospel vision, you don't have to condemn them. You can simply invite them to come to Zion by helping show them the value and strength of our best traditions of respect and reverence for one another.
Merrijane brings up another concrete thing good men can do to help prevent and heal the wounds derogatory words can cause. She suggests that positive, affirming relationships with men can do a lot to build young women's confidence in both their individual abilities and the value of their gender:
Dad sat and talked with me. He believed in my talents and abilities. He encouraged me. As a result, I’ve never felt like I was inferior simply because I’m female. Perhaps I project that experience on my relationships with other men, because I don’t think any of them look down on me, whether they are Mormon or not.
A certain percentage of men are probably going to act like jerks on gender from time to time no matter how many warnings or invitations to Zion they are given. But one concrete action the rest of us can take is to be specific, encouraging, and affirming as we talk to the women around us. Good fathers can certainly do a great deal to help their daughters. The church also provides a structure for good men to take to heart the scriptures' repeated admonitions to remember the fatherless and the widows and to be positive, respectful, encouraging presences in their lives.

A final note on change in the church: 

These suggestions may seem simple and small, but I really believe that small and simple things happening on the local level can change the course of a culture for good. And one specific thing I learned from Elder Marlin K. Jensen is that often, change in the church comes because a general authority recognizes a succesful inspired innovation at a local level and feels inspired to spread it across a larger area or even the whole church.

This is a fairly different model for social change than we're used to from our political culture: in politics, change is typically created by organizing individuals into interest groups who try to magnify the voice of their position in a crowded public debate. But in church culture, we value the more intimate council setting rather than often clamorous public debate, and council members tend to look to the best practices they're aware of for guidance rather than turning to interest groups to educate them.

When we are interested in changing our broader society's culture, it may be best to adopt the broader society's preferred methods of interest-based organized and lobbying advocacy. But if we try to change the church using methods borrowed from our nations' politics, we run the risk of making minor gains at the expense of the beautiful difference of the church way of doing things.


  1. 1) Recognition -- Maybe we should worry less about this?

    Of course, I am older than at least some of you who were invited to comment, since I am old enough to be James' mother (he is the same age as my oldest son).

    But I grew up with FHE lessons about not blowing your own horn:

    see Matthew 6:2-4

    King James Version (KJV)

    2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

    4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    As a young person growing up in Canada, there was one day of recognition for young men--Scout Sunday, which fell in February (Lord Baden Powell's birthday). Any scouting awards the young men had earned since the previous Scout Sunday were handed out that Sunday, and there would be no more mention until the next Scout Sunday the subsequent year.

    Since the girls all moved through primary and young women's at the same time, instead of rotating in and out on their birthdays, there was also one sacrament meeting where the achievements of the girls were honored, and awards given. Usually in August, since we followed the school year and not the calendar year.

    So, that was handled equally and without a lot of pomp and ceremony.

    (Of course, I am pretty sure that Americans handled things differently--but I don't know; we paid less attention to what was happening south of the 49th, thanks to no internet, less TV coverage!) No offense, but the American culture is so over-the-top. Just saying. We roll our eyes a lot at our house over American Big-Deals. I think that has crept into the church quite a bit. Too much.

    Service was also addressed by James in point #1. I agree that NOW there is less opportunity for girls to serve. Which makes me grateful for being old, because I started teaching Primary when I was 13, and since I was out of Primary at age 11, due to following the school year and not my birthday, I served in the Primary nursery from age 11 to 13. I taught Primary continuously until I graduated from High School, as did many of the young women in my hometown. Great experience, which I would not trade for anything. The young men had their priesthood service, and we had our primary service.

    I have never liked the 3-hour meeting block; I understand why it has been necessary given travel constraints in a global church. But back then, when at least in our "mission field" ward, we young women gave service to the primary children every week, working side by side with relief society women, we grew up learning that we were there to serve (to give our alms) not to be served. Good lesson.

    Still need to think about the others...

    1. Hearing stories like yours makes me wish we had a richer body of fiction with detailed settings from different countries and eras in church history. I think being able to see the different ways things have operated would give us a broader sense of what's possible within the framework of the restoration.

  2. As usual, lovely thoughts, James.

    #1) I'm not a fan of parity in spendiforous activities of self-congratulation, so I heartily support what you're saying.

    Still, I want to draw an even clearer line of separation between charitable service and priesthood obligations of service. I have a beef about AP service, in that this is a calling with eternal consequence and we don't teach it that way. If we remember that the Kirtland temple had a platform on either side with the leaders of the AP on one side and the MP on the other side, we see the two priesthoods balancing out the kingdom. The Doctrine and Covenants makes very clear that AP leaders, under the direction of the bishop who directs at the ward level, have a responsibility for temporal salvation, and MP leaders, who largely direct at the stake level but some at the ward level, have a responsibility for spiritual salvation. A thorough reading of Section 107 clarifies tremendous duties of the deacons, teachers, and priests.

    One thing that we don't do a good enough job of clarifying is that men hold the opportunity to administer, *but the blessings of that priesthood are open to all who have had keys turned in their behalf.* That means that every blessing described in Section 107 is open to those who *receive* the ordinances administered by those offices in the Priesthood. Priesthood power (with a small p) is available to all. Do we teach young women and women in general that they have access to all of those priesthood powers? In my mind, that's where we begin.

    Every person who participates in gospel education has the opportunity to increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power. THAT is what we ought to be teaching both young men and young women. It is a good service to take the sacrament to those who can't attend, and it is a good service to babysit on demand, but it is a better service to build the kingdom by teaching young men and young women to equate activities they engage in with principles of eternity.

  3. Re: #2 - THANK YOU! I've made this point over and over and it never has any sticking power with people! Pastoral care has always derived from feminine power to heal, repair, and encourage! What people have done with leadership power is to make it about ADministering instead of Ministering, and that's an entirely different thing. Now what we hear feminists clamor for is more administrative power. Nonsense! We need more ministers!

    #3: I actually see more examples of women speaking in demeaning tones toward men in church. Here are a few consistent examples: Get a woman to run the activity and it will be great; I have six kids, 5 under 18 and the one I'm married to; He can't handle that - he can barely get himself to his meetings. Men in popular culture are fools, uneducated, entertainment-oriented, socially-deficient imbeciles. Satan wins no matter who gets depersonalized.

    I agree that we need to calmly and without retreating to our own snowball forts parry small-mindedness as we find it. The church is about inviting all to a higher walk and conversation and we can correct this within a generation. Some women knew no other power than to diminish men and the entire culture was balanced by have spheres of power in which the other gender didn't tread. With the blending of those spheres of power, we have to release the old baggage of boundary policing conversation. And like I said, I think there's more work to be done on women in that particular arena.

    Ugh. Do you have the ability to add kismet filtering or something to your blog so that you don't have to use the captcha thing?

    1. Bonnie: Re the captcha...probably, but I'm not that smart...I just took the default settings...

      Re #3: The sobering thing to me about the examples you give with men is the direction--damaging cultural stereotypes about men seem to be getting worse, not better. The church's call to responsibility and dignity is an increasingly important alternative voice to the growing cultural casting of men as slackers and babies in big bodies.

    2. Yes. Yes yes yes. There is so much collateral damage to this trend I can't even begin to begin.

  4. Bonnie's reply to #2 - Amen.

  5. Thanks for the post, James, and also enjoyed the comments. That differentiation between ADminister and minister, Bonnie, is brilliant. I can't believe I've never thought of it like that before. And Myrna, that's fantastic that you were able to serve in the Primary at such a young age.

  6. What about derogatory young women who think themselves better than everybody else and treat others (esp YM) like crap, and then disobey the commandments because they "know better"? There are crappy young men, but maybe a focus on YW and teaching them not to act like prideful princesses would help make for higher quality experiences in working together and showing how relationships between men & women really work. I'll come back & redevelop this thought to improve it

    1. Hm.

      I think the frame of teaching someone "not to act like x" is problematic, because it suggests you're seeing the person as x. And they can feel that.

      What we're encouraged to do is teach people to act like the best possible version of who they are and can be. Which can be tough with the handful of youth who are obviously trying to look too cool for anything a teacher might say. But I've seen the man one too-cool-for-Sunday-school guy from my ward growing up became. And I really admire his faith and dedication and vision now.

      So for both young men and young women, I think we need to strive to teach them to open up the Godliness at their core. Like Bonnie said, help them see how they're connected to the things of eternity. And then maybe some of the petty stuff will lose its sting.

    2. James, your willingness to focus on what a youth can become instead of what they are today is crucial...and not just in terms of youth. That is how the Savior sees us...not that he doesn't expect progress and hope for change...

      Thank you for the consistence of tone.

  7. The ironic thing about Eagle courts of honor, and the mission farewells of yore, was that most of the elaborate pomp and circumstance was introduced by mothers of the honorees. I know by very recent experience that the court of honor is almost entirely planned by the parents, which usually means the moms. We combined our son's night with another boy. Both of the dads strenuously urged us to keep it under an hour, which we did—and I think we didn't overdo the celebration. But one thing we struggled over was whether or not to buy the special Eagle neckerchief and slide for each boy. It's not required, we didn't want to buy it, it's expensive—but everyone else's mom did it and how would we look if we didn't? (What an embarrassing admission!)

    Anyway, that's why I appreciate Pres. Hinckley telling everyone to cool it with the mission farewells. It added pressure to ending the game of one-upmanship. We shouldn't *need* our leaders to do that ... but sometimes we do.

    1. It is interesting how interconnected and complicated things are.

      I mean, some people have mentioned feeling slighted by the Eagle Courts of Honor. But I'd imagine many can relate to your sense that in many (esp. the elaborate ones), the mothers are the ones the ritual is for maybe more than the sons.

      I wonder--and this is just a crazy theory--whether out of control Eagle ceremonies are related to the "humor" about men I mentioned in the post and Bonnie highlighted in her comments. If we have a growing cultural expectation that men will be losers who never take off, maybe some mothers need an elevated ritual level of reassurance that their sons are really achieving something.

      And, like you say, if a few mothers feel the need for more pomp, others often feel some obligation simply to follow that new norm.

  8. Great post, James. :) Thanks for keeping this conversation going! Regarding 1) I think it goes deeper than Court of Honor vs. Recognition Night and that there is room for some genuine discussion here.

    In the church we have many little "rituals of respect" in regards to the Priesthood, something I believe is appropriate. Since the Priesthood only operates through us mere mortals, we show respect for that power by showing respect toward those who bear it. The first person to receive the sacrament is the bishop, out of deference to his position as father of the ward and judge in Israel. A counselor in the Stake Presidency "presides" at a meeting even if he hasn't visited in months and didn't do a thing to help organize or run it. Showing respect for the sacred is something we desperately need to teach to our youth and children since the world is actively trying to teach them otherwise. It's something even we grown-ups need to be reminded of.

    The power of God given to men is easily defined: the Priesthood. We have many scriptural chapters and sections devoted to it, we vote on when a man receives it, men hold titles depending on where they are in the priesthood hierarchy, etc.

    The power of God given to women, though... what's that, exactly? :) I have an opinion, but until we have a section added to the Doctrine and Covenants spelling it out, it's just an opinion. As long as that's the case, there's going to be an imbalance in terms of knowing when and how and why it would be appropriate to have "rituals of respect" for the power of God given to women.

    So here’s my opinion. :) That which is uniquely female is the ability to bear life. Women participate directly with God as co-creators and gain tremendous spiritual insight and power. Every child physically brought into this world is bought with her or his mother's blood, just as every soul saved is bought with the blood of Jesus. There are sacred aspects of childbearing that are overlooked or ignored, in part because our Western macroculture is just plain squeamish about it.

    When you're trying to build Zion in Mammon, you run into zoning issues, and that becomes starkly apparent when it comes to this sacred power God has given to women. The idea of "reducing" women to "breeders" is reprehensible to the world, and yet being a "mother in Zion" is something our General Authorities invariably praise. The idea of announcing (and celebrating with the raise of the right hand) a young women's first menses is beyond mortifying, even though that's exactly what we do when a young man becomes a deacon. :) Where the priesthood receives respect, the amorphously-defined procreative power is frequently treated with something between uneasy praise (lest we offend someone) and disgust. That's not the fault of the General Authorities, the local leadership, or the "rank and file" membership. It’s just a Zion/Mammon zoning issue.

    I wholeheartedly agree that "inequality" is a loaded term that should be avoided, but I think pretending there isn't an imbalance in how the divine powers granted to men and women are understood, experienced, approached, handled, and honored does a disservice to both sacred powers. They're never going to be equal because they're not SUPPOSED to be. They're complementary. The priesthood and procreative powers are both powers and both divine, but we fall short in recognizing and appreciating them, and that’s when a lot of these more-visible challenges arise. In my humble opinion. ;)

    1. I'm glad you brought up menstruation--I've actually been thinking about it lately because I have a daughter for whom it may be just a few years away and have heard several stories about how overwhelming its onset can be.

      Now, my daughter and I have made a deal: any night she remembers to ask for a story about Jesus, I'll tell her one when I tuck her in, even if it's already late. Given that it delays bedtime, she remembers basically 100% of the time.

      A while ago, I decided to tell the story of Jairus's daughter and mentioned that it was a very special time in the daughter's life--she'd just had her first period and was therefore changing from a girl into a young woman. Which made it so much more sad for her family when she got so sick and seemed like she was going to die without being able to finish growing up.

      Even though my wife's told our daughter about periods before, my daughter still asked about it like she had no idea what it was. So we talked about what menstruation is and why it's so important. And she thought it was pretty cool. If we find other opportunities to talk about it positively, I'm hoping she sees it as a valuable and important thing when it comes rather than as something foreign and weird.

      Since we don't live in a culture of arranged marriage and therefore have high rates of lifetime singlehood, talking about having children as a key sacred power of womanhood is complicated and raises concerns for some. But I think you're right that it is cool that in our community, we value birth and motherhood. And it might be cool if we had more traditions related to those somehow: to menstruation and pregnancy and breastfeeding and even menopause as a time of transition from the more immediate motherhood stage of life into a broader matriarchal stage.

    2. This is only slightly related, but I lived in a ward in Logan where whenever there was a baby blessing (and it happened frequently) after the blessing, the bishop invited the baby's mother to stand and be recognized, and then any of the baby's grandmothers and great-grandmothers that were present. It was a small gesture of appreciation that sometimes seemed a little corny, but which I think was a good step towards celebrating them in a more public way. And since baby blessings are usually on fast sunday, it seems like the moms and grandmas are frequently the first ones to get up and bear their testimonies, too.

    3. Thanks for the response, James. That's an awesome approach to both bedtime and to the subject of menstruation and maturation generally. Totally stealing from you. :)

      I think your final comment, though, hits on the head part of the frustration I feel sometimes. We don't begin talks about the priesthood with qualifiers ("Not everyone can live up to the responsibilities of the priesthood, and we recognize that. Still, to those who are able, home teaching is something we encourage.") :) I will always remember Sherri Dew's 2001 address "Are We Not All Mothers," in part because it was the POWER that she was speaking of, not the individuals. It didn't matter if you actually had a baby or a husband. What mattered is that you took hold of that divine power within you and let it bring you closer to God.

      We culturally flinch away from talking about Heavenly Mother because we already take enough flack about polytheism from some people, and we culturally flinch away from talking too much about that divine procreative power because we don't want to be pilloried by secular feminists and/or we don't want to hurt the feelings of women who aren't mothers. If we are honoring the POWER and not the person, though, I think that even the woman without children will feel included in that show of respect, just like the deacon doesn't feel slighted when he brings the sacrament to the bishop.

      Also, to Bri Guy, that is an AWESOME variation on the "salute the mother" tradition. Totally stealing that one, too (long story). :) In my previous ward, though, one bishopric counselor in particular made a joke of it, and it irritated my husband a lot. I think it's a great starting place, though, and I'm glad to hear your ward is doing it.

      Can I offer another idea, one that might illustrate where I'm coming from when it comes to showing respect for the power vs. the person? What if, for baby blessings, all the priesthood bearers who had been asked to participate assembled in the front and then waited for the mother to bring the child to them? Without singing the praises of the mother from the pulpit, it would be a symbolic acknowledgement that the priesthood bearers stand ready and willing to serve but lack the ability to do so without the gifts that come from that procreative power. That's what I mean by respect rituals.
      It's not about thanking an individual for her contributions, it's recognizing the whole that these two halves of the power of God become. (See D&C 132:19-20 where the distinguishing characteristics of exaltation are that they have all things subject to them AND have a continuation of seeds forever.)

      (How's that for a concrete suggestion, James, since I totally forgot to mention one and that's what you were actually blogging about? Better late than never, right?) :)

  9. I am saddened with all this talk about groups -- we need to me ministering to individuals -- rather than talking about boys and girls in a ward generally, or men or women in a stake generally, is anyone willing to talk about individual persons?

    How can I help ___ [fill in the name of one person].

    is better than

    How can we help them? Or how can they help us?

    Really, this isn't a male/female matter. There are some men in your ward who have less influence than some women in your ward. There are some girls in your ward who get more attention than some boys, who are disappearing into inactivity with no one noticing. Satan laughs when we introduce divisions among ourselves.

    1. To phrase a similar concern another way: after writing this post, it occurred to me that I invest more energy into philosophizing about broad issues than into actually making a difference through my calling as a quorum secretary.

      That's pretty sad.

      So while I do think discussions about groups might potentially help us see individual needs we might otherwise overlook, I appreciate your reminder that at the end of the day, we're not accountable for the experience of everyone in the church to the same degree that we're accountable to help individual people with individualized needs in our families, ward, communities, and wherever we go.

  10. I personally feel that members do need to minister more, but the Church leadership (Gen. Auths.) are to blame because the church is a corporation and acts like it to boot. Therefore the Stakes and Wards are run like corporations also. More emphasis is being put on what/what not to do, how to/how not to per the stupid Church Handbook for leaders (that no one else can see). The church has gotten caught up with keeping everyone in line that the gospel has fallen by the wayside.
    There are more meetings that keep us away from family. Less money is sent back to the Wards which mean members have to step up and once again are kept from being with family.
    Where I live people put great importance on what level of calling one has. Priesthood authority abuse is rampant. Another problem is that men are never called to teach classes (except Priesthood class). AND the YM are not getting the message that females are to be treated with respect, or anyone for that matter. Yes, girls can be snots and treat people bad also.
    I have said this on other sites. My just turned 12 year old daughter was ganged up on by three 16 year old boys on a combined YM/YW activity. The idiot complacent leaders, who were gossiping instead of watching the kids, did nothing when alerted by a witness. I was told "boys will be boys". The YM Pres. and YW Pres. would not return my calls. The Bishop said he would handle it but when it came down to actually doing something he backed out. I blame the parents, but the YW/YM leaders should have used the incident as a learning experience and to teach the boys that what they did is not alright.

    1. JR:

      You complain that the General Authorities focus too much on keeping people in line and not enough on giving people flexibility in their own spheres.

      Then you go on to complain that the people in your ward are out of line and call the local leaders idiots.


      I don't know what to tell you.

  11. Ji, if divisions aren't good then why does the church itself create them by emphasizing the differences of male and female and giving them different assignments within the church?

    While of course we need to focus on individuals, the fact is even within our religion we have divided groups and base our treatment of an individual within it by what group they fall into. Is the individual an elderly high priest or a young beehive? We would expect different things of the high priest than we would of the beehive and they would have different responsibilities. The key is to recognize if the policies and current way of doing things in the church is helping these groups of individuals come closer to Christ and grow in the Gospel, or if it's either ineffective or in some cases even harmful. Acknowledging that there are unique challenges to specific groups of people within the church is not contentious, it's how we make sure we are taking care of our fold, and it's a crazy dance of balancing the overall needs of a group and the needs of an individual (who is also a part of the group but not solely defined by it.)

    Next comment I'll respond to the numbered thangs here.

    1. Lobbie, Let's not be respecters of persons -- instead of treating people based on what group they fall into, I recommend loving each of them as individuals. Not all high priests are the same -- not all Beehives are the same. If anyone ever wants to minister to me, I hope they treat me as an individual and tailor their ministrations for me and my needs and my growth, rather than treating me the same way they treat everyone else in my "group". That's how the Savior would do it, I think.

    2. Again, I agree we need to focus on individuals.

      But I also agree that certain broad characteristics are helpful in guessing what an individual might need.

      If a woman has a baby, the Relief Society responds to her as an individual, but within the well-known subset of common needs of women who have just had babies. Group identities, maybe, are a shortcut to start the individual tailoring process.

      Jesus might not need that shortcut since he already knows everything, but when I approach someone I am consciously or unconsciously likely to estimate their needs making reference to things like age, gender, etc.

    3. That's pretty much what I was getting at. We have divisions in the church in an attempt to better meet the needs of people who fit into said categories. We just have to find the balance in not forgetting that there can be very unique needs within those groups that are individual in nature.
      While I'm sure it's beneficial in some ways to have 10-year old boys in the same class as 60-year old women, it may not meet their needs as much as RS and Sunday School/Primary.

      The crazy balance I referred to is one in which we don't go too far into either extreme of focusing so much on individuals that there's no order to anything because every case is supposedly radically different, vs. grouping everyone into certain categories and assuming that an individual's needs within that category are all the same. In reality it's a combination of both, and the church tries to implement that, though our corporate culture of the last few decades has perhaps hindered some of the focus on unique circumstances in trying to prescribe a common solution to large groups of people.

  12. What a wonderful constructive post on a divisive issue! Thank you.

  13. Obviously I did not make my point clear.
    Let me know how it feels when a member of your family is disrespected by someone in the church, they are outnumbered 3 to 1, called vulgar names, personal items taken away and broken, laughed at, then the attitude of "well, they were just having some fun" or " boys will be boys".

    1. JR, the circumstance you describe is very unfortunate, but thankfully, is not reflective of the church as a whole. At least, I have never seen anything such as you described. I feel sorry for your daughter.

      "Boys will be boys" is a cultural matter, not a Gospel matter, and will have to be dealt with through cultural institutions, or secondarily in a Gospel framework as people learn and accept correct principles. If a crime was committed, you may want to call the police. Or maybe forgiveness is in order. May God bless you.

  14. Just watched this, and thought it pertinent:

    Aunt Sheila

  15. I love that you point out the difference between culture's vision of men and women, prestige of position in church service, and the gospel vision -- true, true, true!

    When my husband served in a bishopric, it was his job to organize sacrament meetings - music, talks, etc. As a bishopric, they made some small changes to the cultural habits of the area. They eliminated the label "youth speaker." The youth spoke, but it wasn't always first, and it wasn't always for just 5 minutes. Each speaker was given a specific topic and a specific length of time to speak. My husband worked with the youth to help them plan and carry out their talks according to the guidelines set. They never used the words "youth speaker" when announcing who would speak. Women often spoke last in sacrament meeting. There were no "missionary farewells" or "homecomings," although outgoing missionaries and returning missionaries were always asked to speak shortly before leaving or shortly after returning home, on a specific gospel topic assigned by the bishopric. They were, of course, welcome to use any personal experiences that were relevant to that subject. It helped diffuse the cultural habits of homecomings and farewells.

    As YW president at the time, I went to the bishop to see if there wasn't some way to engage the young women more in service in the ward, especially in regards to sacrament meeting. Our bishop asked the young women to be in charge of the bread for the sacrament. He asked them to make homemade bread -- he is a man who loves good food, and it was important to him that the bread for the sacrament was hearty and delicious. He always instructed the young men to break the bread into large pieces to provide sufficient mass to give the members time to ponder over what they were partaking of. For many years, the young women took turns preparing the bread. Because I knew that it was the teachers' quorum responsibility to make sure there was bread at each sacrament meeting, I tried to get the teachers' quorum president to coordinate with the young women in a "return and report" kind of communication to confirm who would be bringing bread each week, but we were never able to truly implement that practice. I was trying to get the YM and YW to communicate with each other regarding their assigned stewardships, in the hope that that habit of communication would carry over into their adult associations in serving in the church.

    Your point is extraordinarily well-taken -- if we want these less effective cultural habits to change, we need to work on changing them, one family, one youth program, one ward at a time.

    1. The bread things is very true.

      And your difficulty implementing a standard communication process is worth highlighting: often, our society seems to cast gender-based dissatisfaction as though it's the result of an active conspiracy to oppress. Typically, though, the problem is simply that any improvement takes work--and the work is often sort of mundane and unglamorous. Real progressive work, I think, is more often along the lines of trying to get teenagers to communicate than doing something like organizing a protest.

    2. "The bread things is very true."

      I meant "the bread thing is very cool"--but it came out bizarre and incoherent. Ah, well..

    3. Maybe your insight about communication is why I enjoy your blog so much...I always say that the best way to sbvert discontent, misunderstanding, and contention is open and genuine communication. When we talk about the things that worry us or bother us, in a rational and humble way, we learn, we gain insights, and we can change. Thank you for this rational forum.

  16. My post was too long -- here's the rest:

    Do you know what I would love to see? I would love to see mothers and daughters attending BOTH the YW general broadcast and the RS general broadcast every year. I wish the YW and RS met together for opening exercises every week, like the priesthood members do. From the time a boy is a deacon, he sees the workings of the priesthood organization. Whether he pays attention or not is a different matter, but he sees assignments being made. He hears about the needs of the members of the ward as they are met through volunteerism and assignments there in opening exercises. By the time he's ready to become an elder, he has a sense of what priesthood meetings are about. AND, the young men get to go home teaching -- they get to see priesthood service in action, whether they accompany their fathers or some other man in the ward.

    For the young women, though, RS is this strange and separate place where their mothers go. It's for the old ladies. I wish the young women could see assignments being made in RS. I wish they could get a sense of the sisterhood that the adult women feel for each other and how that sisterhood expands beyond age and social differences. I wish the young women were asked, from the time they're 14, to go visiting teaching with their mothers, or with another sister in the ward. It would teach them about service, about compassion, and it would reduce the isolation and spiritual disconnect that the girls often feel, or that I believe that they feel. Maybe it would help them transition from the YW program (which sometimes is just too much about the YW, feeding an already natural self-absorption that exists for that age group) into Relief Society, where they need to be able and ready to let go of self-service and truly learn how to reach out to others.

    So, as often as I could, I took my daughters to the YW broadcasts, and invited them to attend the RS broadcasts with me. They both had awkward transitions into RS (as I did, 35 years ago). I think we could do more to make the transition more natural, and help connect the sisters and the young women in each ward more authentically.

    Anyway -- I love the way you think. Thank you for inviting so many other great thinkers to share here!

    1. In our ward, the YW and RS met together on Fast Sundays as a way to help YW feel more comfortable. It was really nice, but it was kind of hard to do it only once a month. There's nothing against doing that except tradition, so maybe some wards could give it a try! I think involving YW in visiting teaching would sometimes be a great idea, too. There's nothing official against that, either.

    2. My experience has bee that doing it only once a month leads the young women to feel a little like dancing cickens, paraded in front of the RS for some strange entertainment value, instead of feeling valued and included. It needs to be more meaningful and consistent, in my mind, but I know that many wards are trying...

    3. Hmmmm. Typing on my nook is causing problems... *been* and *chickens*

  17. I think I finally have a moment to write something though I will likely be repeatedly interrupted by an active baby so some of these thoughts aren't as nuanced as I'd like so I'm open to greater discussion.

    Most people have said what I had thought in regards to #1. I think the Boy Scout thing is very American and that less pomp is good, but I still think the youth benefit from some kind of positive recognition-as long as there's not a stark difference in the amount of attention between not only genders but individuals. We won't get it perfect, but we can sure do better.

    #2 is one of my biggest concerns-not only for men not SEEING women in leadership positions, but rarely being LED by women once they're no longer teens (though teaching in primary is the one exception and I think we both agree that more men should be called to such positions.) There's a great post on this at FMH:
    Basically it talks about the effects the church leadership structure has on working with women in authority outside the church (and from the article and comments this has also been a common complaint about new hires from BYU in the business world, though BYU is trying to change that.)

    I think women are also deprived of the kind of growth that comes from leading and being accountable to groups of adult men and women. When I was president of Divine Comedy, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences I've had as well as one of the best in terms of growth and feeling like I was able to benefit others in that kind of leadership position (and finding I was good at it.) I am now more understanding of those called to lead me and am better able to discuss my concerns with them as well as be more patient of their shortcomings since I had to lead with my own combo of strengths and weaknesses completely out in the open. While there are leadership opportunities in the church for women, any of their decisions can be overridden by a priesthood authority close to them. It's a very different experience to be making the final decisions-and I'm not saying it's a "better" place to be, just a unique one that I think many women would benefit from. It can be incredibly humbling and empowering at the same time. Almost all callings in the church are rotated/temporary so we can learn to serve in different capacities. While I agree that being in the position we might view as being the "one in charge" is not a BETTER position, it is still a necessary one that gives growth and benefits others. Why are there so few of those kinds of positions or opportunities for women? I know a lot of our leadership is tied into the priesthood, but is there somewhere in our theology where women can lead both adult genders with authority?

  18. I see #3 problematic in another way because the church culture actually perpetuates harmful stereo-types in order to justify the current set-up of men and women. How many times have you heard "women don't need the priesthood-men do," usually followed by explanations of how women already know how to serve and be selfless, etc. and that those "poor men" need the priesthood to get anywhere near the (often superficial) elevation of women? How uncomfortably close is this belief to the images we see of men being immature, thoughtless and self-involved in the media? The theory that men need priesthood to equal women actually agrees with that offensive portrayal of men. I certainly believe the priesthood helps men but what about non-member men? Are they doomed to selfish indolence because they don't have the priesthood? Why can't we just say "you're right, it isn't the same and we have no freaking clue why, so let's ask some thoughtful questions of our leaders and pray for further revelation."? In my perfect world... :)

    As a final note on change, I don't think there is one best way for all situations. I agree that most of the time it is appropriate for small and simple changes to be made as opposed to big events, but those also have a place. While the Lord usually speaks to us quietly and with great patience, there are also instances of angels appearing to the heard-hearted, water turning to blood, an ass speaking to its master and other very visible events. As individuals seeking change, I don't think there is one right or wrong way to go about it as long as we are sincere and not trying to do things out of selfishness or pride...and we'll make lots of awkward and weird mistakes along the way. That's the fun part :)



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